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Helen Chesnut: Violas' colours stand out in spring patio plantings

Gardening advice: Cool weather this spring has kept violas perfectly perky, rather than beginning to droop in the heat.

Apologies for prattling on so often about them, but I really cannot resist their sweet little faces.

The violas in bowl-shaped planters on the patio have remained perfectly perky and filled with fresh flowers, while in most years I’ve had to move them by now to the cooler north-facing front of the house as they begin to droop in the heat.

It’s been a cool spring, and the Weather Network has predicted that heat levels this summer will be less severe than in the past few years, with the possibility of some scattered showers.

Of all four viola plantings on the patio, I like the dramatic colouring of the variety I chose as Coconut Swirl. My plants produced flowers that vary from descriptions I’ve seen. The plants I grew have deep, velvety violet upper petals contrasting with violet-blushed white lower petals marked with dashes of the dark violet.

Pink Wing presents softer hues, with rosy pink upper petals (“wings”) above a pure white “face” marked in a single triangle of rosy pink.

I’ll be seeding violas and pansies again at mid-July, for patio plantings that will flower in the fall and during mild winter weather, to reach full bloom in late winter and early spring, until they are replaced with fresh plants seeded in February.

A chance encounter. I hadn’t been on a search for plants when I passed by a new and extensive display of transplants on shelving in front of my local hardware store, but I could not avoid catching in my peripheral vision a captivating splash of deep colour.

A few showy flower clusters of a spreading verbena called Firehouse Blue Fizz peeked out from the shelving, practically screaming for attention. I quickly chose a few of the plants, to join with red geraniums in a patio tub.

I had planned for a trailing lobelia with white and blue flowers as companion plants for the geraniums, but changed my mind as I observed the beautifully patterned verbena bearing purple petals at the centre of each flattish cluster, surrounded by white outer petals tinged with purple.

The verbena transplants have settled in nicely, though I expect they won’t burst into full flower until temperatures rise to the heat levels in which these annual flowers revel.

Tomato trials. By the time, at last, I managed to transplant my staking tomatoes along the base of wire fencing, most of the plants had remained sturdy though they’d grown tall. This is not a problem. De-leafing and burying the stem at planting up to the top tuft of leaves makes for a strong plant, with roots growing from the buried length of stem.

Of the 12 plants I set out, two were noticeably shorter and stockier than the rest. Both were Old German, a new (to me), red and yellow fruited heirloom tomato I’d introduced to my tomato repertoire this year. I’ll be following the growth and fruiting of this tomato with special interest.


Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet on Tuesday, June 11, at 7:30 p.m. in the QB Civic Centre, 747 Jones St. Scott Wiskerke of Roots and Shoots Horticulture in Nanaimo will speak about pruning to improve the overall health of trees, shrubs and other plants.

Floral arts. The Mid Island Floral Art Club will meet on Thursday, June 13, at 2 p.m. in St. Stephen’s Church hall, 150 Village Way in Qualicum Beach. Irene will be demonstrating “Living Moss Wreaths and Garden Decor.” She will describe how to decorate with all natural materials and how to plant and care for succulents. New members welcome. Guest fee $6. Information at [email protected].

Denman tour. The Denman Island Home and Garden Tour, a biennial event supporting the Denman Conservancy Association, will take place on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Among the 12 venues on the tour are the home and botanical haven of Sandy and Des Kennedy and Bee Balm’s home “Mossy Hollow.” Each home and garden tells a story of conservation and creativity, from beachfront cottages to lush hobby farms. Further details at, where tickets at $25 can be purchased online. Other ticket sources: Garden Works (Courtenay), Denman Hardware (Denman Island), Hornby Gas Bar (Hornby Island), Ken Dor (Qualicum), Cultivate (Parksville), Weinberg’s (Buckley Bay), Blue Heron Books (Comox).

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